Truffaut landmark back on the screenJules and Jim, directed by Fran,cois Truffaut, with Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre. At the Brattle, through May 1, and at LSC, on Friday, April 19.
I mentioned on these pages two weeks ago the rerun of Fran,cois Truffaut's 1958 masterpiece The 400 Blows at the Brattle Theatre. Now 1962's Jules and Jim calls for attention.
That Jules and Jim is a major work may be considered an established fact. Its immediate acclaim as a monument of the French New Wave cinema has not faded with time; more than a few critics of repute nowadays reckon it among the finest films of all times, and for good reasons.
The film starts in a casual, relaxed mood, like a fairy tale, in Europe shortly before the World War I. The eponymous heroes are two friends of different nationalities, initially engaged in amorous endeavors of the superficial kind. This changes abruptly, however, when they meet Catherine, the woman who embodies all of their desires. Jules becomes her husband and the father of her daughter.
The vicissitudes of the War separate the three protagonists for a while. But when contact is resumed, they embark upon a curious mariage `a trois (sometimes even `a quatre), spurred by Catherine's apparent desire to have it all. Under the auspices of a friendship remaining firm, Jules and Jim confront her spell in a game of give and take. The outcome is predictably grim.
Jules and Jim starts as an innocent story of two men honestly making the best out of their lives, and ends as a cynical portrait of people tragically caught in the web of their destinies. Thus, Truffaut retraces his steps of The 400 Blows. A clue for his inspiration is provided by the book which Jim, having borrowed it from Jules, hands to Catherine -- Goethe's Elective Affinities.
Ambiguity pervades every feature of the film. This ambiguity is enhanced by the suggestive comments of the narrator who, in the great tradition of fairy tales, provides us with an outside view of the story. He puts mild irony in the first scenes and downright sarcasm in the last, but where in between the transition occurs is not entirely clear.
Common to Jules and Jim and The 400 Blows is Truffaut's superb command of his directing skills. Particularly fascinating is his mastery in summing up a whole situation into a single sequence of symbolic images. In Jules and Jim, these occasions get a sweeping, irresistible rhythm, like a child's experience with a carrousel.
But these words are equally applicable to the film as a whole. It is fascinating, and its impact is profound.